Binge-watching became possible in 2013 when Netflix and other television streaming services began to release all episodes of a show simultaneously.
Binge reading, however, has been around for over 100 years. Kids have been hooked on the episodes in series books since the late 19th century with the release of the Bobbsey Twins (1904).
Binge watching a television series means sitting through five episodes or more within seven days of starting the series. In binge-watching, viewers grow increasingly familiar with the characters. They claim to enjoy the slow character development, noting the changes that mark a character’s complexity, that builds with each plot twist.
Binge reading a book series may take longer. For example, the first set of Nancy Drew books (56 total) were released between 1930 and 1979. Binge reading the original Goosebumps series (1992 to 1997) would mean reading 62 books.
Binge reading from series to series can take a student from their first days of primary grade favorites Frog and Toad to The Clique in high school.
As students learn to binge read in the early grades, they can benefit from meeting characters that are static and predictable.
- Pinkalicious will always want the color pink;
- Peter Hatcher will always be frustrated by the antics of his younger brother Fudge;
- Harold, the dog, will remain convinced that the bunny rabbit (Bunnicula) is actually a vampire.
- Pippi Longstocking will always be adventurous, unpredictable, and able to lift her horse one-handed.
Being familiar with a character also allows younger students the opportunity to make predictions. They can anticipate how the character they have come to know will interact with plot and setting. This reading practice can improve their overall accuracy and fluency.
As they get older, students can binge on other book series that deal with mature subject matter in the themes of isolation, prejudice, love, or death. They may prefer characters who are tested in perilous situations such as Katniss (The Hunger Games Trilogy); Bella (Twilight Trilogy); or Thomas (The Maze Runner).
Students may even choose to binge read a series that (literally) follows a character as he or she grows up. The best example of a series with such character development and plot twists is J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series. Readers who are initially attracted to the fantasy of a parallel wizard world can develop a relationship with Harry, reading about the successively dark problems he faces in the hope that good will triumph over evil.
There are series books for every age group, and there is evidence that students should be encouraged to binge read a series for fun if they choose.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compared the reading scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) using survey information that students volunteered about their reading habits.
The 2015 survey included the following questions about the frequency of reading for fun:
- About how many books are there in your home?
- How often do you talk with your friends or family about something you have read?
- Reading is one of my favorite activities (with response options: this is not like me, this is a little like me, and this is a lot like me)
This data shows that the more frequently that students read, the higher their NAEP scores were. This data confirmed there is a link between vocabulary and reading achievement in all age groups, where the students with the highest average vocabulary scores were also in the top 75th percentile of reading comprehension. By contrast, students with the lowest vocabulary scores were those at or below the 25th percentile in reading comprehension.
These recent findings by NAEP also confirmed earlier research in vocabulary acquisition, that determined students who read widely learned more words and word meanings. (Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn, 2001; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Reutzel et al., 2012).
One undisputed seminal study (Anderson & Nagy, 1992) estimated that children learn an average of 4,000 to 12,000 new words per year as a result of book reading, Encouraging encouraging students to read independently, to read for fun, promotes vocabulary growth without direct instruction.
There are critics who fear that series books are not enough to improve reading. They have expressed reservations that the series books lack depth or the literary qualities that are found in other hallowed texts from the canon.
But reading for fun does not need to be literary. An objective measure based on vocabulary and sentence complexity, the Lexile measure, does show some surprising differences and similarities that can be made when comparing “classic” literary works and book series:
- SERIES: LEGO Ninjago Chapter Book Series 550L-710 Lexile
- CANON: John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men 660Lexile
- SERIES: Veronica Roth’s Divergent– 700Lexile
- SERIES: Suzanne Powers’ The Hunger Games 810Lexile
- SERIES: The Magic Tree House Fact Finder 880Lexile
CANON: Tim O’ Brien’s The Things They Carried 880Lexile
CANON: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 890Lexile
SERIES: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket1000 – 1370Lexile
CANON: F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby 1010Lexile
SERIES: Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet 1020Lexile
To be clear, the series books listed above are not equal in literary quality to the literature they are compared to from the canon. But, the practice students can have with series books that are objectively similar in vocabulary and sentence complexity can help them to get enough reading practice to drive substantial growth. Series books are what prepare students for the canon.
So go ahead and encourage students who choose to binge read a series.
It’s good for reading practice…and like the streaming services…it’s commercial free!